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New York Prisoners, Denied a Solar Eclipse Viewing, Sue the State

When the moon crosses in front of the sun on Monday afternoon and, for a few minutes, casts a shadow over much of New York State, millions of people will be able to witness the rare celestial event just by looking up. Inmates in the state’s prisons will not.

Last month, the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced that, because of safety concerns, all New York prisons would be locked down during the solar eclipse.

In response, six men at an upstate prison filed a federal lawsuit against the department on Friday, arguing that denying them the opportunity to view the eclipse would violate their constitutional right to practice their religion.

The men, who are incarcerated at Woodbourne Correctional Facility in Sullivan County, come from varying religious backgrounds, but all believe that the upcoming solar eclipse “is a religious event that they must witness and reflect on to observe their faiths,” according to court documents.

“Many religions recognize the significance of this historic eclipse, and we are advocating for everyone’s right to observe it,” said Chris McArdle, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

The Bible describes an eclipse-like event during Jesus’ crucifixion, and according to the Hadith, a sacred Islamic text, there was a similar phenomenon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s son.

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